India appeared Thursday to have put the brakes on exporting Covid-19 vaccines as it battles a new wave of infections at home and a faltering inoculation drive.
India recorded more than 50,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday for the first time since November, while its aim to inoculate 300 million people by August runs behind schedule with 53 million shots given so far.
India is a major vaccine supplier to other nations, particularly poorer ones, including under the Covax global inoculation programme led by the World Health Organization and the Gavi alliance.
So far it has sent more than 60 million doses to 76 countries, mostly AstraZeneca shots manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine maker by volume.
On Thursday the Gavi alliance said deliveries of vaccines to lower-income economies “will face delays” because of a “setback” in Serum obtaining export licences from the Indian government.
A Gavi spokesperson said the delays in granting the licences “are due to the increased demand of Covid-19 vaccines in India.”
“Covax is in talks with the government of India with a view to ensuring deliveries as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said, without giving further details.
“SII has pledged that, alongside supplying India, it will prioritise the Covax multilateral solution for equitable distribution. Covax is in talks with the government of India with a view to ensuring deliveries as quickly as possible.”
Gavi asked for its comment to be updated: Says delays "are due to the increased demand of Covid-19 vaccines in India. SII has pledged that, alongside supplying India, it will prioritize the COVAX multilateral solution for equitable distribution."
— Alexander Smith (@AlexanderSmith) March 25, 2021
The Indian government and Serum were not immediately available for further comment.
“It is not clear how long it will take to resolve the delays,” an industry source told AFP.
India, home to 1.3 billion people, was this month overtaken by Brazil as the second-most infected country after cases dipped in December and January from a peak of nearly 100,000 a day in September.
But recent weeks have seen an uptick, with health ministry data on Thursday showing almost 54,000 new infections over the previous 24 hours, the most since October.
India’s strict lockdown has been steadily eased over the past year and in recent months most activity, including weddings, religious festivals and some cricket matches, returned to normal.
Now many regions are reimposing curbs, particularly in the hard-hit western state of Maharashtra where officials have launched random virus checks in crowded areas in the local capital Mumbai — with those tested having to pay.
“Just to enter a mall, you have to give 250 rupees ($3.50) over here, (and) that too with a queue of one hour,” said Mumbai resident Mohit Jain as he lined up to enter a shopping mall.
“It will cause a lot of inconveniences for the malls as well as for the customers also,” he told AFP.
The country’s known coronavirus cases are approaching 12 million, with more than 160,000 deaths.
The health ministry said Wednesday that the variants first detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil have been found in India, but not in “numbers sufficient to either establish (a) direct relationship or explain the rapid increase in cases in some states”.
Read more: PM Modi takes first dose of Covid-19 vaccine
Meanwhile, India this week decided to allow all over-45s to be inoculated as it attempts to vaccinate 300 million people by August.
“(It) would be good if the government decides to stop the export and look after its own Indian citizens first,” Delhi resident Beulah Pillay, 62, said as she received her first dose.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk